Jul 26, 2012
neil

Under pressure? When stress at work leads to anxiety over work.

Following on from an earlier post on work & stress here is part 2 on worry, stress & work.

What is the difference between stress and anxiety?

It’s quite normal in conversation to use the ideas of stress and anxiety interchangably as if they were either one and the same thing or necessary partners in crime but it’s important that we see that they are really very different things. Stress is a reaction of mind and body to increased pressure (Jago Wynne) and a normal experience that comes from living in a fallen world. There is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about feelings of stress and we saw that both Paul and Jesus experienced stress in the work God called them to do.

Worry is an attitude of the mind. In the context of stress we can worry before, during and after times of stress. It is an attitude and response to stress. Jago Wynne summarises it this way - When we worry, we are stressed in the present about some event that may, or may not, happen in the future.

What is the relationship between stress and anxiety?

The key reason we need to appreciate the difference is that stress at work is often unavoidable but worry about work is always avoidable. It might be helpful to think of the relationship between temptation and sin in general. Jesus was tempted but without sin. So we might be tempted to sin as we glance at an attractive person as we walk along the street but we then make a choice to turn a situation of temptation into a sinful response when we lust after that person. We might be tempted to gossip about someone when we get asked a nosey question about them but we choose to sin when we give the information being sought.

So when it comes to the relationship between stress and anxiety Jago Wynne comments;

As Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he drew a division between two groups of people. Not a division between those who faced stressful situations and those who don’t, because we all face stressful situations. The challenge is that Jesus says, when it comes to the area of worry and stress, many of us who think of ourselves as very religious and Christian actually act just like those who are not Christian.

What should we do with worry?

4 things to understand;

1. Worry is usually sinful

We really do have a choice as God’s children not to worry that must be true because Jesus commands us not to worry about some things. So in Matthew 6:25-34 he tells his disciples I tell you, do not worry about your life before going on to give at least four reasons not to worry! More on that theme at an earlier post When worry becomes a way of life.

When we worry we demonstrate what someone has called a ‘practical atheism’.

 2. Worry can spiritually destroy you

If we do allow stress to turn to anxiety and worry it can be spiritually very harmful, even fatally so. When we start to obsess about our work so much so that it becomes the focus of our thinking the burden can become overwhelming and it will be a huge distraction from our key priority - our relationship with Christ.

Jesus said in Matthew 13:22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

And in Luke 21:34 Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

We need to understand that not only is worry sinful but it is a danger to us.

 3. Worry about the right things

Maybe it is a surprise to you to hear that Jesus’ concern is not that we shouldn’t worry but that we should worry about the right things. Only if we stop worrying about the wrong things can we choose to worry about the right things.

Growing in our godliness is about being free from wrong concerns precisely so that we can be concerned about the right things.

Paul certainly knew what that felt like. In 2 Corinthians 11:28 writes And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.  Paul felt under a daily pressure in his work and it led to anxiety.  This sense of ‘anxiety’ flowed from reports he received about the churches he had founded such as the Corinthians themselves. His anxiety was godly and profitable in that it led him to pray and work for their salvation.

Jesus warns us all in the sermon on the mount not to worry about life (which includes our work) but to give our attention to seeking first the Kingdom of heaven. We should worry when that is not our number one priority.

4. Worry should drive us to Christ

Stressful situations such as the daily pressure of work lead us to a place where we quickly become conscious that we have run out of resources to cope. The purpose of stress, like all temptation is to drive us to Christ.

The apostle Peter urges us to Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

When stress leads to anxiety we must give those anxieties to God.

Two more posts to follow; 1) managing times of stress and 2) when should we persevere in our work & when should we leave our job?

2 Comments

  • Hi Neil,

    Thanks for this series. I was wondering where you see mental illness fitting into the paradigm of worry/anxiety being sin? Depression and anxiety disorders can be triggered by stress and leave the Christian feeling unable to respond in faith. Alternatively, the anxieties may drive them to Christ and they may logically believe that there is nothing to worry about – but they still get anxious and panicky because there’s a medical condition underlying it. Believing this anxiety to be sin could simply add to the pressure they feel – whereas in actual fact they’re not demonstrating practical atheism so much as experiencing it through the absense of God’s peace in their lives. What do you think?

  • I believe having a strong spiritual backbone is a great way to help manage work stress, worry and anxiety. Frankly, it’s often about finding the right balance between work/life and a good spiritual system can offer excellent relief and help offset the general stressors of the day.

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